Saturday, October 31, 2009

21 Years


21 years.

That's a long time. A lifetime for some. For others, 21 years surpasses a lifetime.

I was a senior in college at 21 and excited to take a new Creative Writing course. Not surprisingly, much of my writing had turned darker than I had typically written before Ken's death. And much of it centered on him. I don't remember often consciously choosing to write about him, but that's where my thoughts naturally went.

One of our assignments that October was to write a description of a ghost. It certainly isn't my best writing; in fact, I recall that my professor didn't really "get it." But I think those of you reading will. So, in memory of my brother's suicide on Halloween, here was my response.

by Kristin Spengler

He treads sluggishly on his journey and slowly slithers through trees, hoping not to be discovered by any eye which can still see the future. Light is his enemy, as he is only comfortable with darkness as an escort. He hangs his head in shame so that he will not have to face his decision. His stature is slouched as he belabors every step on this world from his past. He freezes at the house which used to be his home; darkness has taken its place. His musty scent lingers as he roams through the incomplete household. His favorite obsession has become bursting into the dreams of others as quickly and suddenly as he abandoned his own. As he slowly lifts his head, his glowing red eyes strain to focus on me, then back at the ground. The pain he left behind for me seeps into all of the walls and possesses me until I have to gasp for air. I attempt to free myself of the nightmare we share and jut straight up in bed with only his words, "I'm sorry," gushing out of the door into the unknown.

From Emily (Morrison) Corbe

Kristin, I think this is a wonderful idea. I got to know your brother, Ken, pretty well. My best friend at the time was Wendi Grusy, and along with John Chabbott, we saw him a lot, every weekend for a while. My memories are his height and his deep voice, which were so very comforting and non-threatening, which is ironic....He saw the good in everyone. If you were bummed out (which I frequently was due to my unrequited crush on his friend!) he'd take the time to try and cheer me up. He was fiercely loyal and extremely intelligent. That much came through to me loud and clear. He loved Dire Straits, I remember his lunch table with all the Latin guys in the far right side, I remember laughing with him at "the Spot," his bellowing laugh! I was very distressed when I heard the sad news. His memory has stayed with me, maybe because I moved away so soon, although I think Ken's warmth and wit stays with everyone who knew him well; I am sure of it.

From Beth Canalichio

I remember mostly that Ken used to tease me about being a "freshman." Although being a freshman was akin to being the scum of the earth, he was always kind to me. Ken was so cool, laid back, and just an all-around nice guy. I stopped in to see him in Rehoboth when he was living there one summer. He was happy to see me and very welcoming. We share birthdays; I see from Kristin's post that he would have been 41. I am 38. I was shocked when he died and remember the funeral. I felt so sad. It brings a smile to my face to remember Ken!!!! Kristin - It is so awesome that you are keeping his memory alive!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Happy 41st Birthday

My friend Deena, me, Ken, and our grandpa
after a Swarthmore football game in 1986

I know I have been MIA from this blog for a while. Sometimes, I just need to get away from it. (I apologize to those of you who sent me new memories to post. You can find the new posts directly below this one.) Since this would have been my brother's 41st birthday, I felt it was appropriate to post something new.

Around this time of year, I am always reminded of what I was doing in 1988. You see, as an eleventh grade English teacher, I get swamped with requests for college recommendations. I take them all very seriously and make them all personal. One of our guidance counselors teases me that I do more recommendations than any other teacher in our school (which is probably true). If only we received a little extra pay or benefits for all of that work! Every few years -- this year being one of them -- I have a recommendation request for Swarthmore College. It's an extremely competitive, challenging, and beautiful school. It's also the school my brother attended when he chose to take his life.
Back in 1987, I was knee-deep in my college search. I had wonderful help from my parents who instilled in me the value of education and who genuinely seemed to enjoy touring various campuses with me. It also helped that my parents had lots of previous knowledge about colleges from my brother's search and their own wisdom. I wasn't the intellectual marvel or athlete that Ken was, but I had lots of extra-curricular activities in high school and a low tolerance for any grade that wasn't an "A." I also wanted to continue my involvement in music, even though I wasn't sure I would add this as a major (of course, I did decide to double-major and also complete secondary education certification; education was not a major nor a minor at my liberal arts college). I found several colleges I was interested in, and I narrowed them down to my top three. At some point, Ken nagged me to apply to Swarthmore, too. Ha! I thought. What a joke! They would never accept me. I am a realist (even though I admit that I have the occasional lofty dream). So I knew for a fact that my normal SAT scores would not qualify me for admission to such a prestigious college. My high school guidance counselor -- who couldn't pick me out of a line-up, by the way -- recommended that with excellent grades like mine, I should "try harder" the next time I took the SAT. (This is the same man who offered me the "guidance" that I should quit band and take physics instead. Try telling that to my music teacher parents and to the colleges who offered me music scholarships). Anyway, solely because I didn't want to hurt Ken's feelings, I sent away for a Swarthmore application.

One afternoon, soon after all of the college deadlines had passed, I remember sitting in our family room with my high school boyfriend. We were watching a brand new television show, and I was sitting on the carpeted floor. Ken came in and scoffed at the show. "What are you watching?!?" he asked with annoyance after a few seconds. "It's called The Oprah Winfrey Show," I told him. (Maybe I did know a thing or two back then after all!) He changed the subject and asked me how the college application and scholarship process was going. I told him the schools that had made the cut. He looked dismayed. "What about Swarthmore?" he asked. Now, I really never had any true intention of applying to Swarthmore and setting myself up for a rejection letter. Didn't he have any idea how smart he was? I would never be that smart. I told him what the deal breaker had been. "Swarthmore had three essay questions, Ken. Hard essay questions." Never mind that writing was my forte and that I wanted to be an English major. "I would have never gotten accepted to Swarthmore," I continued convincingly. I know all these years later that there was no chance of me ever being accepted there.

But Ken made a face. Then he said something I will never forget for the rest of my life. A sentence that has haunted me for all of these years after. "Oh....well, I spent a half hour in the admissions office telling them all the reasons why they should accept you." I can barely even type that. It hurts me to the core now just like it did then. And I doubt he would have ever told me had I actually applied.

I still know I wouldn't have been accepted. But why didn't I just complete the darn application? Why couldn't I have just done it for him? I had no idea that he really wanted me to go there and share his small college campus with him until then. What if I had been miraculously accepted and I could have been there for him when he needed me the most? What if...what if...what if....

I only got to visit my brother at Swarthmore a few times. My junior and senior years of high school were chock-full of commitments every single weekend for band, show choir, and private flute and vocal lessons, not to mention all of my academic commitments and what was left for my social calendar. But I will never forget the image that greeted me when I arrived at Ken's dorm room. This picture -- blown up -- was on his door for all to see:

Ken and Kristin, 1973

He never explained to me why that picture was taped to his door. But it made me proud. And when I think back to the memories I have of Ken, the Swarthmore application and this photo often come to mind as proof of how much my big brother cared. He wasn't especially fond of showing his emotions, but these two memories are reminders to me when I need them. While our relationship was often typical of a brother and sister who lived to agitate one another, I also have a few gems like these to remember what a gift he was to me and my family.

So, happy birthday, Ken. Thanks for believing in me when I didn't believe in myself, and thanks for being almost as proud to be my big brother as I was to be your little sister.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

From Neil Cockerill

I recently heard of your website honoring Ken and I was very touched by the memorial. And yes, saddened that it has been 20 years since a great friend has passed.

My name is Neil Cockerill, and I am proud to say that I knew Ken very well. I had the very unique pleasure of being Ken’s roommate for our freshman year at Swarthmore. Imagine what you learn about someone sharing a 15’x20’ space for nine months. He was my first friend at college, and we remained friends until his unfortunate and devastating departure.

Suffice it to say that our pairing as roommates was a blessing for me, and sometimes a curse for poor Ken. You see, Ken had been at school roughly two weeks prior to freshman orientation to attend pre-season football practices. I arrived at school for the first time in the early afternoon and unloaded my things before he returned from practice. By the time he came back, he was greeted with an entirely transformed room; that is, three guitars, and an entire Marshall Stack amplifier system (occupying nearly 25% of the room), and large posters plastering the walls honoring the great guitars players of the time (think Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, etc.). And a half-sized basketball hoop with break-away rim. You should have seen his face. Priceless.

But within a few minutes we were chatting it up, talking about music, sports, and where we came from. As it turns out, we grew up relatively close geographically, as I was from Chestertown, MD. I had been to Caesar Rodney many times as a competing wrestler. I could tell immediately that Ken was very intelligent and more mature than most his age. I knew I could learn a lot from him, and I did.

Music was one of the topics we discussed daily. Ken was the biggest Stones fan I ever met, and I have yet to meet anyone in my life that compares. To this day I think of Ken every time I hear the Stones. I could almost predict the tunes that would be blasting whenever I came back to the room. If it wasn’t “Gimme Shelter,” it was “Symphony for the Devil” or “Paint it Black.” Maybe even “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” Most of the time he was belting out the lyrics without an ounce of self-consciousness. For the record, Ken was not a good vocalist. But he outweighed me by 75 pounds, so I let him sing to his heart’s content. Occasionally I’d come home to the Grateful Dead, though during his freshman year he wasn’t the Deadhead he was to become by his junior year. Meanwhile, he had to endure the likes of Rush and Metallica when I overtook the radio. But he never complained. In fact, I think we introduced each other to some new styles and learned to appreciate each other’s tastes. Ken was nothing if not open-minded.

Over that first year, we became good friends and had plenty of laughs. I distinctly remember a time when we were having one of our late night, slightly inebriated games of mini-basketball in the dorm room. In an effort to close out a tightly contested game of H-O-R-S-E, Ken ran across the room and propelled himself with a leap off the bed for what should have been an earth-shattering dunk. Instead, a slight miscalculation sent him well past the intended target, and culminated with a pseudo-swan-dive on his desk. Nothing survived impact and Ken’s head was left wedged between the desk, lamp and window sill. Post crash, I heard only his muffled, groaned concession……..“Game Over.” I laughed for a week. Ken laughed for two.

We had been placed on the 2nd floor of Willets dormitory, which quickly became the party hall of the entire campus. Call it luck (or at times unlucky if you were actually trying to get some work done). Several nights a week there were kegs in the hall, which brought a wide diversity of students from the campus population. What amazed me about Ken was that he could assimilate himself into any crowd, be it athletes, deadheads, nerds, etc. He was kind, funny and genuine. You always knew where you stood with Ken. While he was never one to dominate the conversation, when he spoke, he was insightful and witty beyond description.

I hope you and the rest of the Spengler family know how important Ken was to the friends’ lives he enriched. It is an honor to call him my friend, and I am a better person for having known him. This world was a much better place with him in it.

Take care and I will always remember Ken.

From Tom Leckrone

You are such a strong and wise person to have put this together. Thank you.

I just saw the announcement in the Swarthmore Bulletin, and I quickly read the posts by other Swatties. I was struck by the fact that others mentioned the directness and solidness of Ken that made him seem more mature than most of us. Ken was right down the hall from me during his freshman (my sophomore) year. He put up with Neil and his Marshall amp and all sorts of silliness that the room could barely contain (including a mini basketball hoop). I remember him reprimanding me once after I had (once again) hung around until someone asked me if I wanted the last slice of pizza, when I hadn't put any money in.

I sometimes had trouble sorting out priorities, emotions and the games people played, but he always seemed to cut right through it. He would stop me in the midst of my over-analysis with a direct question that clearly led to only one, common sense conclusion. He was always right on in assessing my state of mind. I was amazed with how quickly a group of great people from wide-ranging backgrounds coalesced around him. There was so much energy bristling everywhere -- academics, parties, sports, the social scene -- and he was crucial to maintaining the center for a lot of us. He didn't push himself into that role, but he kind of filled in the spaces to transform the conversation or the flow of activity. Without intending to hold sway, he regularly had the last word, and many of us really enjoyed watching that happen. It was clear to me that the amount of hot air and B.S. was always dramatically higher without Ken's presence. (I still remember him screwing up his face & saying, "Wa-a-h" when he had heard (or been guilty of) too much whining.

I really enjoyed exploring the campus with Ken -- walking across the railroad trestle, taking a short cut to the field house, or finding an underappreciated nook of the campus to enjoy a cold Yuengling. It really hurts to write this, but my most central feeling about Ken is that he loved life. He loved learning, loved ideas, loved nature, loved music, loved people. We were always listening to music together. I remember how pleased he was to have come up with a copy of Van's original recording of Brown Eyed Girl. Puzzling through the time signatures of King Crimson in his room. The floodgates that Kind of Blue opened. The trends of the Dead on the Hampton Beach bootlegs. His huge friend from high school materializing at midnight to play guitar 'til dawn, taking on the voice and persona of ancient bluesmen. Also, Ken caught my new girlfriend pulling out the speaker wires in his room sophomore year. It seems he had left the bootleg going when he went to class, and she was trying to take a nap. She couldn't find the switch, so she was pulling at wires when he came back. He gave me a hard time about that one. (Laura and I are still together, anyway...)

Ten years ago, Luke and I were looking into planting a weeping willow on the banks of the Crum on campus. It turned out that the Arboretum people wouldn't allow a willow to go in that area. But we do need to get one somewhere on campus. (Perhaps we need to try some guerrilla planting!)

This is a little out there, but I want to tell you about a dream I have once a year or so. I had a friend from high school, Tim, who was a defensive end of similar size, directness, and good-heartedness as Ken. His life ended a half year after Ken's. In my dream, Tim and Ken are across a field hanging out, soaking up the sun, and I am a good distance away, with other friends. In my dream, I always am drawn to run over and greet them, but I hold myself back. The underlying feeling is, if I acknowledge their existence, they will vanish from that beautiful scene. So I just hang back, and bask in a melancholic understanding of what good souls they were, and are.

Again, thank you and bless you.

From Tom Hengst

It seems like yesterday as the memories flood my mind as I read these words. Ken was a great friend, and I only wish we could have had more time to get to know each other better. I remember the day well and will never forget him. Sorry my words are few, but my mind is full of memories of an earlier time in which we all shared. I know how much his friendship meant to my sister (Deanna Hengst) and I know what he meant to me as well...

He is missed very, very much.

From Todd Simpson

When we were in school (10th grade) and played football together, Ken and guys like Eddie Twaites always made an effort to include me in social events and made me feel part of the team. They didn't have to do that, but they did. It takes a special person to open up an include someone. In this way and so many countless others, Ken was truly special. Ken was the first guy I knew who was social, athletic, and an academic. Prior to my friendship with Ken, I hadn't realized that the three could somehow exist together. His death still confuses me, but the thought of him still makes me smile all these years later. The interactions and relationships we have with others impact how we live our lives and relate to others around us. I like to believe that my friendship with Ken was one that has made me a better person.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Twentieth Anniversary

I have so much to say on this twentieth anniversary of Ken's death -- so much to say, yet so little energy to go there in my mind and relate all that I want to express. I have related what this day means to me as a mommy on my family blog. But I want to explain the words that came to me only days after he took his life.

When the tragedy of Ken's decision struck my family, I was in my second month of college as a music and English major. And even though I was asked to see our college psychologist when I returned to school, my real therapy was in the basement of the music department's chapel in the practice rooms. I had my favorite room with my favorite piano and would play whatever I wanted without anyone's judgements. And a song about Ken just happened. I didn't do it on purpose; it really just evolved. I think part of me needed to play it to feel as if I were close to him in some way. I didn't make the connection then, but I had a lot of trouble performing solos after Ken's passing. Looking back, music was my thing -- the one thing that Ken didn't do better. I really believed he was more talented, more intelligent, more popular, more everything than me. I don't even say that in a negative way; it just was a fact. Secretly, I think that may have given me confidence in my musicality. I knew I excelled in academics, but I would never be as scholarly as Ken; I had a lot of wonderful friends, but I would never be the life of the party as Ken was; but I pursued music and found myself a field that Ken hadn't conquered yet. And while in one breath he would call me a band nerd, he would also tell me how good he thought I was on rare occasions.

But my confidence in every area was shot after we lost Ken. The very first solo I had in college only weeks after Ken's death was a nightmare that I replayed in my mind many times after. It was our chamber choir performance -- a select choir whose membership was by audition only and who received music fellowships for their inclusion in the group. I had auditioned for this solo and was chosen out of all of the girls, even though I was a freshman and this was my first concert. So you can imagine how mortified I was when I walked up to the front of the stage to sing my solo and completely forgot all of the words. That had never happened to me in all of my years of recitals, concerts, and solos. I had certainly been terribly nervous before, flubbed a note or two, or had shaky vocals, but forget my words?!? Ridiculous. I had several inconsistent performances after that, too. So, when it came time to perform my senior voice recital three years later and I told my voice teacher that I wanted to perform an original song, I understood her immediate hesitation. She was a wonderful woman who believed in my abilities and talents, but she also knew my story. Many people at college had gotten to know me freshman year as "that girl whose brother killed himself." I think when I sang, part of me wanted to prove to those people that I was a strong person who could forge through this pain and I would show them. But as my previous solos had proven, sometimes I passed my own test; sometimes I didn't. My voice teacher was concerned when I told her about my song. Understandably, she probably envisioned me stopping mid-verse and sobbing off of the stage. She wanted to hear it, so I played and sang it for her. Just then, my accompanist walked into my lesson. "Oh, Kristin, are you going to sing that in your recital?" she asked while she put down her things and plopped down at the piano. "No problem," she announced as she began to play every note of my original song perfectly. I was taken aback. "How do you know that song?!?" I asked, stunned but smiling. "Are you kidding?" she responded. "You have been playing this piece for the past four years. Didn't you ever hear me playing it along with you in my practice room?" So much for soundproofing. She later explained that she knew it meant something special to me, and she thought it was so pretty that she learned it after I had left one night. So much for my complex songwriting abilities.

Anyway, that moment, it became clear to all of us that I had no choice but to perform this song that I had written for my brother in my senior recital. A senior recital is the final test of a music major, and I was singing some very challenging pieces. But I needed to prove I could do this song. I needed to sing it in front of my parents, grandparents, professors, longtime friends, and college roommates. And most of all, I needed to sing it for Ken.

If you'd like to hear me sing (and play) the song for yourself, click here (in the middle of the screen, find the song "Now" under "Songs;" then click the "Play Song Now" arrow). I will leave you with the lyrics to the song from an eighteen-year-old naive girl who desperately missed her big brother and had to express it through her simplistic song, the twenty-one-year-old who performed it from the depths of her heart to all her loved ones including her brother at her senior recital without faltering, and the thirty-eight-year-old who would give anything to never hear this song again and hear her brother's boisterous laughter instead. After twenty years, that would most certainly be the best music of all to my ears.


When we were young
We needed little more
Didn't care what life
Was really for
Never thought we
Would ever be apart
Never thought then
That you would break
This little girl's heart

But now I know that
Life just isn't fair
We wait too long to
Show how much we care
What would I give
To end this circumstance
I'd give my life if
I could give you a second chance

Now when I see sky
I see your face
Although they say you're
In a better place
There's somewhere here
Where you will still remain
In my heart you'll stay
And that will never ever change

How could you be so wrong
Can I go on
Without your love right by my side
I don't know how I will survive
Oh how
Will I get through this
How could you do this to me now
Could you do this to me

© 1988, Kristin Spengler

Thursday, September 25, 2008

New Poll: What songs remind you of Ken?

Music is a huge part of my life. I grew up appreciating all different genres, thanks to my mom and dad (both talented musicians and music teachers) and my brother who was drawn to very different music than I was. While I have a bachelor's degree in music and I was always pegged as the musical child of our family, you may not know that Ken was also musically inclined. He may not have pursued it as an extra-curricular activity, but as the sister who shared a bedroom wall with him, I know for a fact that my brother could sing. And while our tastes may have been quite opposite -- I loved Olivia Newton-John when he loved KISS; I loved Top 40 when he loved heavy metal; I loved Debbie Gibson when he loved Grateful Dead -- I don't think I would appreciate all types of music if not for his influence. In fact, I related to my now-husband's musical tastes easily because they reminded me so much of the music I grew up on...only a bedroom away.

You already know some of the songs that remind me of Ken; several of them are on the sidebar and they play each time you visit this site. But there are so very many more that sometimes catch me off guard. Sometimes I cry when I hear them; sometimes I smile. Some of them were private jokes between the two of us. Some were songs he would play on his record player ad nauseum so loudly that I couldn't hear my own music (on purpose, no doubt). But I started thinking that so many friends who wrote their memories of Ken referenced music. And that, of course, led me to wonder...

What songs remind you of my brother, Ken?

I would love to know! To participate, simply click on the link below that says a number and "comments." Then, type your comments in the box. If you have a Google or Blogger account, you can enter that information; if you click "Open ID" you will have some other account choices such as AIM, but all of you can simply click "Name/URL" and enter your name (the URL is not required). If you want, you can also click "Anonymous" and then sign your name at the end of your comment. Then, just click "Publish Your Comment." It's a lot easier than it looks....I promise!

So, please let me know what songs remind you of Ken, and it would be great if you could also tell why it reminds you of him. I can't wait to see your responses!

From Julie Merson

Julie sent this pic from a 1986 Grateful Dead show with Jim Magleby and Ken (and Paul Carek in the backround)

Ken was one of the first people I met at Swarthmore. He lived right across the hall from me in Willets our freshman year, and right below me in Worth for the beginning of junior year. He was a supportive, caring friend who was always there to listen to whatever crazy drama I had going on at the time, and never seemed to judge me for any of it. It always made me felt better to see him in the hall or at a party. Just knowing he was there made me smile. And Swarthmore was never the same without him.

Thanks for helping us remember.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Milestone Year

Cheesing for the camera with Ken and my mom on Graduation Day

This past weekend marked a milestone for me: it was my 20th high school reunion. Naturally, seeing many people I hadn't seen in many years all in one room flooded my mind with memories of my past. In particular, I remember my friends and me thinking so eagerly about graduation. My dear friend, Wendy, and I would sit in each other's bedrooms and dream about that magical year that held so much promise: 1988. I was anxious but nostalgic as the years passed in high school. Wendy and I would write on the back of each of our class pictures: "Can you believe we are freshmen?...sophomores?...juniors?....and then, SENIORS?" In fact, my senior year and the year 1988 held many milestones for me: I turned 18, applied for colleges, received several scholarships, and graduated from high school. All of those moments were snippets of my future which I had only daydreamed about years before. I'm sure that all of my classmates remember similar moments and the friends who shared them when they think back to 1988.

But walking back into a room filled with people I shared my high school years with makes me remember the person I used to be. Only months after graduation, I would change. No, my goals and dreams didn't change, but my view of the world would. When I think back to the Kristin who graduated from high school with friends she had known since nursery school and all of her wishes for the future about to come true, I am sad for her. I wish I could go back and shake her, tell her that she needed to open her eyes. She was naive and believed that everything happened for a reason. She believed that bad things happened to bad people. She believed that families like those she idolized on The Brady Bunch and Family Ties actually existed. She never guessed what was in store for her or her family.

My parents separated my senior year in high school. I remember Ken writing me from college and telling me he was sorry that I had to go through that without him. I wonder if he ever thought of all of the other milestones I would reluctantly go through without him when he made the decision to take his life.

The year 1988 was not the magical year I thought it would be. In truth, when I think of 1988, I think of the big black line separating the person I was before Ken's death and the person I became after. It was the year that transformed me and catapulted me into harsh reality. I think of a person who struggled with her religious beliefs and living in her own skin sometimes. I think of a girl who watched her friends live it up at fraternity parties while she sat in her dorm room alone wondering how she would make it through another day without her brother. And I think of the woman who finally realized that all of those milestones would still come even though he was gone.

When I sat in the bleachers during pep rallies in high school chanting, " '88 is great," I never could have known the depth of meaning that year would hold for me. And seeing so many faces from twenty years ago at a reunion certainly was a memorable experience. But the one face I long to see -- my brother's face which no one has seen for twenty years -- I did not get to see at my reunion, and I will never get to see that face again in this lifetime. I only hope that when we have our own reunion, hopefully many years from now, it will be held in heaven.

From Wendy (Layton) Jett

I wasn't there when he died; I wasn't there to go to his funeral. I didn't even know about it until weeks later. And to this day I have harbored guilt that I wasn't there for my friend Kristin during such a tragic time. The phone call came from Kristin personally while I was just into the first semester of my freshman year at U of D. I sat on the top bunk of the bed in my cramped dorm room and listened to her tell me about Ken's passing. I was in shock; it didn't seem possible. I can remember the words she spoke, of how many people came to his funeral, to grieve the life of this person so adored by everyone. I have wondered for a long time if Kristin resented me for not being there, for not knowing, for not doing more afterward.

She doesn't know that I grieved for Ken.

Ken was Kristin's older brother to me. I spent many hours at the Spengler home on Kesselring Avenue, living just up the street on Alder Road myself, and Ken was always in and out with his friends. He would make a teasing remark, like brothers do, and be on his way. Sometimes as Kristin and I would head up to her room I could hear Ken and his friends in his room down the hall, door closed and KISS records blasting away. Kristin would try and drown it out with our love for Shaun Cassidy or Journey on her own record player.

But what I will remember most about Ken was his voice and his laugh. I can still hear it now.

One afternoon, Kristin and I were in the den watching tv, on the Spengler's tv that you had to use pliers to turn the channel because the knob was missing. Ken was on the couch behind us. Whether we were watching an MTV video or Ken just wanted to annoy us, I don't quite recall, but he began to sing "Roxanne" by the loudly as he possibly could. The repeated lines of "ROOOOOXANNE, you don't have to turn on the red light" was screeched sarcastically. And it only became more and more obnoxious as Kristin would tell him to stop. Then, Ken would laugh. A bellowing laugh that only Ken could make, loud and forced, like the song he was butchering for our benefit. As Kristin would scream his name, he would just relax, stretching himself across the couch as if he had no intention of stopping this personal entertainment.

When I hear that song on the radio, Kristin doesn't know this, but I cry.

And if I am totally alone, I scream the words to the song loudly enough that maybe Ken can hear me in heaven.

We miss you, Ken. I am sorry that I wasn't there to say goodbye.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

From Catherine Cooke

I have so many memories of hanging out at Kristin's house on Kesselring Avenue as a kid -- some better (destroying the family room with our art projects, usually involving bits and pieces of sheepskin) than others (piano lessons with your mom when I hadn't practiced). I remember pretending to play with my first feline friend, Muffy, but was secretly watching Ken and his friends master Atari games while earning brag-worthy blisters on their joystick thumbs. There are so many stories, but I want to forward to my first day of high school and my most vivid memory of Ken.

I was walking to a class with a friend, schedule and map in hand, terrified that some bully upperclassman would demand that I buy an elevator key from them, or worse, make me smoke in the bathroom. Ken came bounding through the hallway with a bunch of guys, all in their varsity football jerseys. "Hey Cathy! Great to see you!" he said. I squeaked out a "hello" as they all continued down the hallway. "Who was THAT?" my companion asked. "Oh, that's just Kristin's brother," I nonchalantly said. But my head was going a million miles a minute. Ken Spengler knows me! I know Ken Spengler! This is going to be MY year! That thought stayed with me through the entire day and most of the week . . . whenever something went wrong, I thought, "It's OK, I know Ken Spengler!" Sometimes I feel like him saying hello to me that day was kind of turning point in teenage confidence for me. I really wish he knew that simple thing he did has stayed with me for 25 years.

From Cedric Brown

The link to your brother's blog was sent to me by a mutual college mate. In fact, I was one of Ken's roommates the year this happened. I had gone home for the weekend, and when I returned could not believe how morbid the campus was. I had gone through my own trials and tribulations that weekend, but it was nothing compared to the news of my roommate. I have to say, seeing this brought back many good memories of him. I just wanted to touch base with you to tell you that you are not alone. We all think of him. I will send a subsequent note to you but I did want to say this.

About ten years ago, Jerry Goubeaux and I attempted to visit your brother's grave down in Delaware. We packed up the Jeep and began our road trip to our dear friend. We essentially spent the whole day driving looking for the place, and neither of us could remember where it was located. We went to two cemeteries in the area, and I couldn't even tell you which ones, but it was a good day. As we drove around aimlessly, I kept thinking of how your brother was looking at us laughing at us and calling us morons. It didn't matter, though, 'cause I also know he knew how much he meant to us, and in looking at your blog, he must of thought this was a classic Monty Python moment: Stupid, hilarious, but with good intent. He's probably laughing now...Do you hear him??? :-)

Thanks for doing this.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Welcome, Swarthmore Alums

Thanks so much to Jim Sailer for getting the word out to Ken's Swarthmore classmates about this blog. I hope that many of you will share some of your memories with us whether they are funny anecdotes or serious stories. My husband and I take my boys to visit the campus at least once a year since we live fairly close, and I always lay white roses by the tree dedicated to his memory. The campus is so completely beautiful, but it certainly is a bittersweet beauty for me. I hope that Ken's Swarthmore friends and acquaintances know that you were a tremendous part of his life. While I don't know many of you, I hope that, through this blog, we can change that. Please feel free to send your memories, thoughts, pictures, or anything that reminds you of Ken to me at: My brother had an amazing ability to recognize genuine character, and if any of you reading this were his friends, then that is a testament to you. I thank you for visiting and for being his friend for a time that was much too short.

From Chris Marquardt

What a wonderful thing you did by putting up this blog. It's been a long time since Swarthmore but I do still think about your brother regularly. It's always with a mixture of joy, great sadness and also regret. Being selfish college students, as many of us were, I don't know that he understood how much he meant to pretty much anyone who knew him at Swarthmore - although I'm pretty sure he knew that his close friends loved him.

One of my fondest memories of Ken was from the night he showed up in my dorm room and grabbed me for a race around the campus in the golf cart he was using to ferry an injured football teammate around after the teammate badly broke his leg. I had been goading Ken (in a half-joking way) for a week to let me ride with him and do donuts on Parrish lawn. He always smiled and laughed in a good-natured way that made it clear that he thought I was being funny but that he wasn't inclined to pull any antics with college property... Until he did show up in the middle of the night when I had a room full of classmates, but the both of us tore out of the room and did donuts on Parrish lawn, laughing like goofballs all the way until he dropped me back at my door.

He had the best way about him.

Then I also remember the picture of you and he as kids that he stuck on his door before he left Swarthmore for the last time. He loved you very much.

Monday, May 12, 2008

From Grace Bulger

What a beautiful site this is. I do still think about Ken, and I wanted to share my college memories of him with you... I met him in the fall of his freshman year, when I was a junior. I was heading back to my room in Wharton, where a bunch of my friends were hanging out, and I saw Ken wandering down the hall. He looked lost -- I think he was trying to find someone's room -- and on a whim I introduced myself, grabbed him and swept him into my room with my friends. He looked kind of shocked at suddenly finding himself -- a freshman! -- surrounded by all these "older women" talking at once and firing questions at him. Of course, being Ken, he took it all in stride, and hung out with us for hours. It was memorable for me, because Swarthmore was not always the friendliest place, and going from total stranger to buddies in this way was pretty unusual! From that moment on, he was a friend -- just a great, genuine guy I was always happy to see and chat with at parties or on a walk from the dorm to the dining hall. We weren't the closest of friends, but I really liked him. Even though I was older, he always had that older brother energy to him -- you could tell he genuinely liked women and would always have your best interests at heart -- and now I know why. He's very, very lucky to have had a sister like you. I wholeheartedly agree with the counselor about your dreams. I think he'll always be knocking for you, just on the other side of that wall... I wish you the best.

From Marc Rowen

Thanks for setting up the blog to remember Ken. With the benefit of time, I can now think about his suicide without anger, although the sadness and sense of loss have remained the same over the years. I met Ken my junior year at Swarthmore. We were pretty good friends, but all the same, I never got to know him too well. One of the great things about Ken was that he could make you feel like you were great friends even if you didn't know each other well, in fact. He was the type of guy who five minutes after meeting you has his arm around your shoulder and you're sharing an inside joke, but at the same time there's just so much more there, and likely very very few people got to see it all.

We hung out a bit during the couple years we overlapped at Swarthmore and caught several Grateful Dead shows together. I don't know if I'm coloring my memories at all, but I thought we had pretty much the same sense of any event, I remember laughing a lot when we were around each other. We took a couple road trips to Delaware to hit up parties with his high school buddies, and one of them was the night I'm pretty sure I've laughed the hardest I ever have. I hope I was able to inject as much happiness in his life as he did into mine.

Each Dead show I went to after his death was bittersweet. Several times I thought that I would catch a glimpse of him there. When Jerry Garcia died, part of my sadness at that time came from realizing that my strongest -- and happiest -- link to Ken just broke in some ways.

My world is dimmer for his absence; I can't even imagine what it must be like for you and your family. I wish you all the best, and thanks again.

From Julian Levinson

My name is Julian Levinson and I went to Swarthmore College from 1986 to 1990. Your blog site is incredibly moving and meaningful. I really hardly knew Ken at all, but since I do have one memory of him I thought you might want to hear it. I was eating dinner in the dining hall with a group of friends right near the back door, which athletes used when they came to dinner from practice. This door locked so we had to keep getting up to let people in. Ken was coming in from football practice (?) along with some others and somehow he thought that I had not wanted to open the door for him or that maybe I was impatient with him. He looked at me and said in a slightly hurt or even plaintive voice that he was not one of those jocks. He wanted to be sure I understood this. I was surprised by this and also touched by his sensitivity. At the time I think I assured him as well as I could that I didn't think this -- I really didn't have any opinion one way or the other. But it really came out of the blue. When he died I of course reflected much more on this moment, realizing that he must have felt incredibly misunderstood by everybody and extraordinarily eager to present himself as he really was.

I'm very touched by your devotion to Ken and to his memory. My thoughts are with you.

Saturday, March 8, 2008


There are some obvious gaps in time, but I hope to update this as I receive new photos and find more of my own.
***To pause any of the frames, roll the mouse over the bottom of the picture; click on the bottom to activate contols, and then click the pause button.
(Special thanks to Sally Tapert Forrest and Stephanie Bok for sending their pictures.)

Brokedown Palace

This song is the most difficult to listen to or write about for me. For those that don't know, Ken left a note and a cassette tape with this song on it when he took his life. That is why my parents chose to have these words on his grave: "We loved you more than words can tell."

Brokedown Palace

Fare you well, my honey, fare you well, my only true one.
All the birds that were singing are flown except you alone.

Goin' to leave this brokedown palace,
On my hands and my knees, I will roll, roll, roll.
Make myself a bed by the waterside,
In my time, in my time, I will roll, roll, roll.

In a bed, in a bed, by the waterside, I will lay my head.
Listen to the river sing sweet songs to rock my soul.

River going to take me, sing me sweet and sleepy,
Sing me sweet and sleepy all the way back home.
It's a far gone lullaby sung many years ago.
Mama, Mama, many worlds I've come since I first left home.

Goin' home, goin' home, by the waterside I will rest my bones,
Listen to the river sing sweet songs to rock my soul.

Going to plant a weeping willow,
By the bank's green edge it will grow, grow, grow.
Sing a lullaby beside the water,
Lovers come and go, the rivers roll, roll, roll.

Fare you well, fare you well, I love you more than words can tell.
Listen to the river sing sweet songs to rock my soul.

(To listen to the song, scroll down the right margin to find the playlist.
Then click on "Brokedown Palace.")

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Knock, Knock and Welcome to Ken's Blog

Kristin and Ken, 1974

In our house, my bedroom and Ken's bedroom shared a common wall. Sometimes when we were little, we would have to go to bed before we wanted to, and I remember us both taking turns pestering our parents about staying up "just fifteen more minutes." On one occasion when that pestering didn't work, I remember trying to fall asleep and suddenly hearing a "knock, knock" on my bedroom wall. So I knocked back. A few minutes passed, and then I got another knock and I heard a faint giggle. I knocked and giggled back. This continued on until one of us finally fell asleep (or one of our parents yelled at us to knock it off). In fact, it became a sort of ritual between us. I don't remember how long this bedroom routine lasted, but it always made me smile when I got a knock. Many years later, long after those giggly childhood days, we were both teenagers, and there was some sort of tension between us. I was in rolling around in bed, and the next thing I knew, there was a knock on my wall. So I knocked back. The next morning, even though we both knew that was Ken's way of extending the olive branch, I pursued the topic and feigned my annoyance to him, asking, "Why did you knock on my wall last night?" And he replied out of his crooked smile, "I was just making sure you were still there."

I have always been a sleeper. I can fall asleep pretty much anytime, anywhere in seconds flat. And I enjoy sleeping. But there was a time when I hated to sleep. I was a freshman in college when Ken took his life, and I didn't have many confidantes there yet since I had only been a college student for two months. I don't remember whether it was my parents' idea or the college's (or a combination of both), but I was told I had to see our college psychologist once a week after Ken's passing. I completely resented this, and I made it known to the psychologist that I would attend my appointments as I was told, but I would not talk to a stranger about something so tragic and personal. He said that was fine, and for the most part, I would go to his office with books in hand, and we both used the appointments as time to get our work done.

But then I started to hate sleeping. I begged my college rommate to stay awake. I called friends, went into the hall of my dorm, wrote letters, listened to the radio, did anything so that I could put off having to sleep. One day, at my weekly appointment, the psychologist asked me why I looked so tired. I knew better, but I told him the truth. "I am having trouble sleeping." He saw his window of opportunity and pounced. "Why can't you sleep?" he asked. "I can sleep," I corrected him. "I just don't want to sleep." Then I just remember breaking down. I guess I needed to tell someone, especially someone who could add his expert opinion. Through my tears, I told him of our childhood ritual. And then I told him how, every single night when I fell asleep, I would hear a knock in my dreams. When I looked up, it was Ken. We would hug and cry, and he always said he was sorry and promised me he would never take his life again and that he would always be here with me. And then I would wake up, and part of me thought my dream was real. So I would have to relive it all; the recognition that my dream was not reality was just too much to bear day after day. I tried to make it stop. I tried to think of other things before falling asleep. I tried to eat weird things before going to bed. I tried praying to God to stop this torture. Nothing worked. When I finished my admission, after a long pause, I asked the psychologist why he thought my dream continued night after night. When I looked up at him, I saw that his eyes were welling up. "Honestly?" he said, "I think your brother is desperately trying to tell you how sorry he is." I don't know if he only said that because that's what I needed to hear, but I believed him. And once I believed him, going to sleep became a bit less scary. Ken still appeared in my dreams, and often still does, but instead of viewing the dream as cruel, I tried to think of it as a deliberate visit from Ken's spirit.

I had a dream about Ken the night before I had the idea to begin this blog this past December. I welcome those dreams now as any connection to him is one that I cherish. When I realized that 2008 would mark the twentieth anniversary of his death, I wanted to do something to honor my brother's memory. Probably the main concern of anyone who has lost a loved one is that they want his legacy to live on in the memories of others, and I have often wondered if people still think of him. I am humbled by the kind responses I received about this idea, and I am so grateful that Ken had so many caring friends who are interested in this project. Please feel free to share your memories either by emailing me at the link to the right or by commenting on any of the posts on this page. I will try to update this site regularly, so scroll down when you visit to view the new posts.

And to Ken ... Knock, Knock. I'm still here, and I always will be.

Video of Ken and Friends

To my knowledge, there is only one video of Ken that exists. Our family never owned a camcorder or even one of those huge home video movie projectors. The only video we have is from a video project that Ken and some of his high school friends made for Mr. Walters' senior P.O.D. class in 1986. This is a commercial-spoof from that video that includes Ken, Scott Wilson, Alex Heist, Roger Johnson, Damien Evans, and Bobby Zaragoza (as Mr. Walters). While the video pokes fun at Mr. Walters, I know that Ken respected him beyond measure. Ken's fake laughter in this clip is even funnier than his typical booming laugh that we all knew so well.

When October Goes

There are different reasons for the musical selections on this site*; some are probably obvious while others may not be. I heard this song in the car about ten years ago and it caught me off guard so suddenly that I had to pull over. I wondered if how someone else could have written a song that seemed to channel my own private thoughts so perfectly. (I later learned that the lyrics were written by Johnny Mercer who also wrote classics like "Moon River" and "Come Rain or Come Shine." His wife gave Barry Manilow a stack of his lyrics after Mercer's death.)

Turning the calendar over to October year after year has never gotten any easier. I often wonder if it would be less ominous if Ken's death had not occured on Halloween. The anniversary of anyone's death is difficult, yet every year, when the leaves begin to turn, I am met with an increasing supply of ghosts, skeletons, and dead creatures seemingly reminding me of the day that is quickly approaching.

Having children forced me to change the way I viewed Halloween. I try to focus on them and their excitement. I still have trouble, but in trying to be a good mommy to my boys, I resolve to keep a stiff upper lip, at least until they are fast asleep.

One of the lines of this song that gets me every time is: "I should be over it now, I know." I have always despised the flippant cliche', "get over it." What a useless piece of "advice." It is an insensitive and ignorant thing to say, which is why I will probably always remember when someone asked a friend of mine, who was consoling me at the time, "Isn't she over it yet?" in reference to Ken's death. No, I'm not "over it." I wasn't then, and I doubt I ever will be. To me, being "over it" would mean forgetting the tragedy of his decision and the massive potential he had in this world. To me, being "over it" would be a disservice to his soul. But sometimes I do chastise myself for getting misty at a memory at an inopportune time with similar words, and I have to remember that it's okay not to be "over it," no matter how old I grow.

When October Goes

And when October goes
The snow begins to fly
Above the smokey roofs
I watch the planes go by
The children running home
Beneath a twilight sky
Oh, for the fun of them
When I was one of them

And when October goes
The same old dream appears
And you are in my arms
To share the happy years
I turn my head away
To hide the helpless tears
Oh, how I hate to see October go

I should be over it now, I know
It doesn't matter much
How old I grow
I hate to see October go

*The music on this site begins automatically; it can be stopped by clicking the pause button.
You can also choose another selection if you prefer to listen to a different song on the list.

From Tom Franceschini

There aren’t many weeks that go by that I don’t think of Ken. Every time I drive down Kesselring Ave. to visit my mother I can’t help but remember all of the great times we had as kids in that neighborhood. From the age of 11 to 15 there weren’t many days that went by that Ken and I didn’t hang out. There was Little League baseball practice for Carl King or FDA, wiffle ball games in the backyard, and hanging out on summer nights with the rest of the neighborhood kids. Just writing this brings back so many more memories: baseball card shows, Dungeons & Dragons, The Galaxy Arcade, the Rodney Village Pool, camping out in the backyard, Mrs. Motley’s 6th grade class, and the Spengler family cat (I can’t recall the cat’s name [Kristin: our cat was named "Muffy"] but it was huge). I’m not sure why it happened, but as we grew older, Ken and I grew apart. I’ll never forget when I got the news of Ken’s passing. Although we weren’t as close as we had once been, I couldn’t help but feel I had lost my best friend.

From Peter Bok

Your brother Ken was always so imposing to me. Bigger, older, intelligent. An athlete. Personable. Everyone knew him and everyone liked him. He was on the football team and was obviously very strong. One of my most unique memories of him was when I was on the JV baseball team and our bus backed into a car in the parking lot behind the high school. Ken was heading out, sort of laughed, and he an Mr. Rynkowski lifted the car and moved it so the bus could leave. He moved a car. Down deep I knew he was capable of more than that. He was respected by so many of my friends. He was a legend: SAT scores, intensity on the football field ... everything about him. I miss him even though I only knew him as Kristin's brother. It makes me both happy and sad when I read what others wrote about him, but makes me appreciate Ken that much more. I still cannot imagine your loss, yet know that we all are a little different and better because of Ken and you.

From John Chabbott

Ken, John Chabbott, Damien Evans, and Andy Kaplan, 1985

It’s OK to say OLÉ!!

Having had the benefit of reading a number of blogs, my memories of Ken certainly came flooding back – school, sports, extra-curricular activities (the Spot, the Beach), etc. In looking back at my time with Ken, I have so many great memories of my time with Ken. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (“the Knights who say Ni”), Nick’s Pizza at Rehoboth (Ken did a great thick Italian accented impersonation of Nick), touch football, which ultimately turned into tackle with the lucky ones ending up on Ken’s team. No one wanted to get in front of Ken’s flying elbows. Late night chats at The Spot with all our friends about anything and everything. However, I can think of one particular event that, in my opinion, sums up Ken. It involves one of those ridiculous high school incidents (someone should write a book there were so many!) and how Ken liked to use his intelligence and sense of humor to continuously push our overzealous high school administrators to the brink (unlike the administrators, most of the teachers I think genuinely enjoyed Ken’s wittiness and sense of humor). As others have already mentioned, there was a group of us, like a lot of teenage boys, who loved Monty Python. Part of the humor is not only the wittiness, but its sheer stupidity -- it doesn’t always make sense, but that’s part of the humor. I’m sure others with better memories can fill in the blanks, but at some point Ken became fascinated with the word “olé.” I’m not sure why, how or who started it, but Ken took the word and made it his rallying cry our Senior Year. Given Ken’s masterful use of the word – as a noun, a verb, an adjective, even an exclamation point it got to be a very popular word among us all, but annoying to some of the Principals. Thinking back, it really didn’t make sense this obsession with a word, but in the vein of Monty Python, and at the time and at our age, we all thought it was hilarious, and the more it annoyed them, the more we wanted to use it. For some reason, the administrators didn’t get the joke and tried to basically squash the “uprising.” I think someone actually told the local papers and who actually ran a story in the local paper entitled “It’s OKAY to say OLÉ” which pointed out the stupidity of the whole thing. Imagine the absurdity of school trying to ban a word? I can still picture Ken doing one of his goofy dances with his Scooby Doo laugh saying “It’s OK to say OLÉ, It’s OKAY to say OLÉ!" My son, like a lot of pre-teen boys, has “discovered” Monty Python. And whenever we sit down to watch the Holy Grail – I always think of Ken. His smile, intelligence, sense of humor and that infectious laugh, not to mention some of his great impersonations, are still fresh in my mind. Although he’s no longer with us on this earth, he still makes me smile all the time. And that’s the way I remember Ken, as a fun-loving, intelligent, and wickedly funny friend.

From Missy (Barlett) Ames

As our moms tell it, I first met Kristin when we were 3 months old (I’m 3 days older than Kristin). Our respective mothers were pushing us in strollers around Mayfair when they first ran into each other. So basically, I have known Kristin and Ken since I was old enough to know anyone!

Growing up in Mayfair was idyllic ~ Big Wheel races, bike ramps, swingsets, football and baseball, playing kick the can, cowboys and Indians and ghost in the graveyard. There were snow forts and sledding and snowball fights across Kesselring Avenue. What a great neighborhood! We grew up together, the backyard neighbors and across-the-street neighbors (Scotts, Bethels, Barletts, Welches, Spenglers and Ladishes). Their parents were our surrogate parents; their siblings, our siblings. We “let” others in of course; the whole Crossgates and Mayfair was our playground, with friends from all over it .When I think back to all the games we played, I picture Ken there, laughing and being a leader amongst us. There’s no way to remember my childhood without remembering the Mayfair crew.

In junior high and high school we ran in different circles, branching out into other friendships, but we always shared that common beginning and, I believe, a special affection for each other. Kristin and I continued to be “best friends” despite hardly ever hanging out! We had our different directions and different groups, but we always kept in touch.

The summer after I graduated from high school I shared a beach house in Rehoboth with some friends. I was walking down Wilmington Avenue from the boardwalk heading back to my house when I hear a booming, friendly voice say “Missy?” Lo and behold it was Ken! He was working at Irish Eyes and had just happened to step outside as I was strolling by. Funny that it was close to the end of the summer and he worked a block from my house, but we had never run into each other! What a small world! We talked for a while and got caught up. Ken and I ended up hanging out a few times. (I’m not sure I ever told you this, Kristin, but )….One night while we were hanging out…Ken and I kissed. It was a really nice kiss, but we both agreed that it was a little weird as well! Since Kristin was practically my sister, that made Ken practically my brother! No hard feelings; we hung out another time or two, but it was time for the summer to end and for Ken to head back to Swarthmore and me to start at U of D.

I remember going home for Caesar Rodney’s Homecoming weekend that year. Did the whole parade and game thing, running into old friends. The biggest thing that happened to me that weekend though, was that I was in a car accident – rear ended by some guy in front of Delaware State.

Or at least I thought that was the biggest thing. Little did I know the pain of sore ribs, a concussion and whiplash would be dwarfed by the mental anguish and heartbreak I felt when I heard the news.

Mom called me that Monday at school to tell me about Ken. How could someone so alive, who lived life to the fullest, not be? My heart ached for him, for what he must have been going through. The hell his parents must be in, dealing with the death of a child. And especially for Kristin. My oldest friend. Ken’s little sister. She’d always looked up to him and now he was gone. What do you say to that? How do you even begin?

Mrs. Bethel drove up to U of D to pick up Steve and me, to bring us home for Ken’s funeral. That was one of the quietest car rides I’d ever experienced, everyone lost in their thoughts and memories. The funeral was surreal. There were literally busloads of people there – all people who loved Ken in their own way – whose lives he had touched. I wish he knew how many people cared so much about him. Maybe it would have made a difference.

I’m saddened by the loss of someone who was such a presence. I’ve also been angry at times, for I feel he robbed people of what their futures should have been and altered them permanently. The anger is fleeting - I think of that winning smile and sense of humor and I know that he wouldn’t have hurt others on purpose. The pain he must have been feeling had to have been overwhelming and then my heart aches for him. I’ve felt his presence on numerous occasions and I know he still shares in this world somehow, watching over, and I know I’ll see him again some day.

When I think about Ken now, I picture the grinning face from birthday party snapshots and childhood pictures – he’s forever young in my mind, like back in the carefree days of Mayfair.

From Sally (Tapert) Forrest

I remember meeting Ken freshman year at CRHS. We shared homeroom, and when teachers sat us alphabetically, we were often next to each other. We had a good time in Mr. Hanzlik’s science class. I was a transplant to the Dover area, and Ken and I started off with some friction as we got to know one another. Ken liked to debate, and he was competitive. I recall the strict CR attendance policy and some car/ driving mishaps that made Ken late to school; there was no sympathy from the administration.

Ken and I became good friends through the years. He was a good listener, funny, sensitive, curious, popular, smart and witty. I also think he was a risk-taker and had a restless side. Some of us recall “The Spot” and many impromptu parties—there and SO many other places. Bob Z. and I visited Ken at Swarthmore one time; he showed us that lower-Delaware hospitality. We saw him play in a football game and went to a dance.

Ken was absolutely one of a kind, and we miss him!!!

Thank you, Kristin, for your very special project to bring our memories together all these years later. Your big brother is very proud of you.

From Frank Donato

Just hearing Ken’s name brings me back. Ken and I grew up on the same street, Kesselring Ave. I had the pleasure of playing tackle football in his backyard, wiffle ball, soccer, you name it. We loved to terrorize the other kids at the other end of street. I remember Ken being an avid baseball card collector AND a KISS afficianado. I loved flipping baseball cards with him and building snow forts.

Ken always impressed me with his ability to work hard and play hard. I remember how Ken had the ability to weave himself seamlessly between the “jocks" and the "TAG” group.

Our friendship continued into college and those summers at the beach were some of the most memorable moments of my life. Over the years, his name has come up fondly in conversations, and "Brokedown Palace" will always hold a special place in my heart every time I hear it.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

From Eileen Pallace

I have so many wonderful memories of Ken -- not only as a student, but also as a friend of Christine's and as someone who spent time with our family, often on Christmas afternoon. To be around Ken was always such a joy. Not only was he handsome and extremely intelligent, he had a sense of humor and a laugh that would just embrace everyone in the room.

I still carry two pictures of Ken in my wallet. In one he is wearing his Caesar Rodney football uniform; in the other he is wearing a suit for his senior picture. Both photographs capture an image of Ken that I hold in my heart.

Part of his humor, I think, was the way he was able to see through some of the absurdities of life that confront us every day. I'll never forget when all of the students in Betty Miller's honors class were instructed to write a valedictorian speech (an assignment chosen not by Mrs. Miller but by Dr. Rita Ryan). It was a ridiculous assignment since everyone already knew who the valedictorian was going to be. Many in the class wrote subtle sarcastic essays, and Ken's was certainly one of the most humorous. He was able to read it aloud in a way that was droll and insightful at the same time.

Ken was also such a loving, giving person. He had friends from many different groups of people in school. His teachers loved him, as did his peers. There was so much to love.

I still miss Ken. There is a rare day that goes by that I do not think of him in some way -- always with joy laced with sadness. I like to take his pictures out of my wallet from time to time just to gaze at them with love and nostalgia.

From Bob Zaragoza

I am living in Italy with my wife and three children, and amazingly, just about a week ago, I was telling my little ones a story about Ken. My oldest daughter just started a new school here and was having trouble adjusting and making friends. I told her that I had a tough time when I was starting high school because it was a new school district for me and I didn't know anyone there. When I met Ken, I was intimidated by him -- he was a lot bigger than me, knew everyone, was smart and "cool." Our initial relationship was very adversarial, and I would want to avoid going to classes or places where he might be. This never happened, of course, and we continued to run into each other, despite my best efforts. And then something happened -- he started to reach out to me. This guy who was popular and who already had a ton of friends wanted for some reason to hang out with me -- a nobody. Over a short period time, our friendship grew, and we soon became best friends did everything together. To this day, I credit Ken for helping me navigate the trials of adolescence, expanding my world, and most importantly just sharing in the process of growing up. I will never forget the relationship that we forged, and as I am helping my children with their friendships, I look fondly on all the memories that I shared with Ken.

From Alex Heist

When I first met Ken in 7th grade gym class, I never imagined that he and I would become great friends by our senior year of high school. Ken was an athletic, handsome, popular fellow, while I was a major nerd who, at the time, could not have been less interested in sports or athletic activities of any kind. Given that the "jocks" and the "nerds" seldom hung out together, the fact that we would share an almost identical sense of humor, enjoy the exact same kinds of music, and wind up in many of the same classes throughout high school (including the infamous Latin Class) seemed more than ironic.

Ahh, Latin class...who could forget the relentless torture we put poor Mrs. Scarborough through for three years (although we did apply the same techniques to Mrs. Richards in our senior year, it never had quite the same effect). It was during this time that I really got to know Ken...and his incredibly twisted sense of humor. Our own language began to evolve, where terms and phrases like "cheese", "wheat", "cheese-wheat" and "Ish-tan-BUHL!!!" somehow had special meaning to us (only those who were there will likely understand all this). Not to mention the near-revolutionary "¡Olé!" debacle, which actually materialized right between Ken and myself at the cafeteria lunch table. Somewhere I still have a clipping of the Delaware State News report about the incident.

In the Spring of 2001, I took a brief tour of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania while looking for a particular music store. I was immediately awestruck by the absolute beauty of the college campus...and then thought to myself how happy Ken should have been there as a student. It deeply saddens me to this day that I didn't get to know Ken as well as I would have liked. While I eventually lost touch with most of my high school friends, I'm sure I would have kept up with Ken...there were so many layers to his persona, and such incredible potential in him to do great things; I figured we had an entire lifetime ahead of us to develop a great friendship. After twenty years, my grief has not diminished.

Ken has never once left my fact, I was thinking about him right before I received Kristin's e-mail about this very website. Thank you, Kristin, for bringing us all together to celebrate your Brother's life in this very special way.

We miss you, Ken...more than you ever could have known. God rest you, my Friend.

From Bob Furlong

Right off the bat, the most succinct thing I can share is probably just how Ken and I became friends, because I think it's pretty typical of the way he was. I was brand new at CR in 10th grade (Ken was in 9th) because my family moved across town to a house that was just a couple of blocks from the high school. So, just being from the rival cross-town school, I felt like I had all the friends I needed, and I wasn't exactly in an outgoing mood. I don't think I was there for more than a couple days before Laughing Boy noticed an outsider making his way through the halls and not really talking to anyone. I don't remember exactly what he said the first time he came up to me, but I can imagine it was something like, "Hey, you're not from here," with the mock-serious furrowed brow. I do remember that I didn't say much back to him except the very minimum, answering a couple questions and dashing away as soon as I saw daylight. For whatever reason, though, Ken still approached me every time we were in the same space at the same time, and it wasn't long before I was added to the list of characters from all walks of life that I understand Ken brought into the Spengler house over the years. I don't remember any process of getting to know him after the first couple of times he talked to me, it's just like we were instant friends, and he was one of the best friends I've ever had.

From Kevin Scott

I think of Ken often and wonder where he would be or what he would be doing today had things been different. Thinking back, I always thought that he was one of the most well-rounded people I knew in that he was one of the smartest people I knew, yet he wasn't just smart. He played football, yet he wasn't just a jock. He could party with the best of them, yet he was always on the honor roll. He defied classification .... to steal a name from one of those books we had to read senior year in English, not sure if it was Shakespeare or what ... but he almost seemed like "Everyman." And of course, 'Ole !!!

From Deanna (Hengst) Hostler

I first met Ken in 5th grade at W. Reily Brown Elementary. I had just moved to Delaware the year before and still felt somewhat new. I'm not sure how it is today, but back then, they separated the boys and the girls for the "health talks." Ken approached me to make a deal. He said he would let me see the "boy handouts" if I would show him the "girl handouts," and if I agreed, he would let me cheat off one of his tests. I'm not sure why I remember this, maybe because it was the beginning of many confidences we'd share in the future. Ken was such a great person, and I was fortunate enough to be in many classes with him through the years. I think he enjoyed being my personal "Dear Abby" at times, and he was always a good listener --never judgmental. I still think of him often, and he appears in my dreams a few times a year. I always thought he'd end up being President one day - Lord knows, we could sure use someone like him now.

From Kristin (Stayton) Gibbons

First of all, I don't think anyone could ever forget Ken. I know I can't. His tragic departure has haunted me for years. For years, I would often dream that he was still alive, but we knew that he wanted to take his own life, and a bunch of us were trying to stop him. In fact, I think I still dream that similar dream about once a year. It is so good to see his ornery smile and hear his laugh in the dream, though. He could ALWAYS make me laugh!

I first met Ken on a bus trip in 6th grade with the TAG class (or as Ken liked to call it, "FAG" class). He was hanging out with Todd Cleek at the time, and I remember thinking that no two people could be more annoying, but our friendship blossomed in high school, where we spent four years together in the same homeroom & had many classes together.

Probably my best memory of Ken is 9th grade Personal Typing Class. I sat right by he and John Chabbott. We drove Ms. Brackett nuts with our constant comments & jokes. We had a heck of a time in there trying to learn to type on those old school typewriters! The brand names on them were "Silver Reed" and "Olivetti". Now I don't recall exactly who was who, but John & Ken dubbed themselves Mr. Silver Reed & Mr. Olivetti and made such weird voices that the three of us could barely get through those timed typing tests, which were daily! I would leave that class in tears with makeup smeared from laughing so hard!

I also remember our English Honors Classes in both 11th & 12th grade, when he & many others would make fun of Mr. Grace & "Mzzzz. Miller" -- he & Damian Evans mostly, with their recitation of Monty Python & "spam!" They would go on & on & drive all of us bit nuts, but they were so funny together. I also remember Honors P.O.D. with good 'ole Mr. Walters or "Jack", as he was fondly called by Ken & others.

During our senior year in what they had just dubbed a "mid-winter break" in Feb. 1986, Ken, Stuart Townsend, Sally Tapert, Deanna Hengst and I all went with Chris Ulp(in two separate cars) to his mother's beach trailer in Rehoboth. It was in a little park right after you cross the little bridge entering Rehoboth, & it was closed for the winter, so we thought it would be a brilliant idea to pick up some liquor & drive down there & hang out for the day. Needless to say, we had an adventure. On the way, Stuart got pulled over for speeding & we were trying to hide the liquor in the back seat. Once we got to the trailer & had a few, the 3 boys took off for snacks & the 3 girls (lacking in common sense & then intoxicated) had the police come collect us after a neighbor reported us for urinating in public outside the trailer, which at the time did not have working pipes! Ken managed to escape all of that, but the 3 of us got picked up by our parents at the Rehoboth police station! I actually had a slight crush on Ken at that point in time, which few people knew, and I was looking forward to spending the day with him. Needless to say, things did not work out as planned! Anyway, I realized shortly thereafter that he and I were just always meant to be good friends, and I treasured that friendship.

Ken was an intelligent, creative, extremely funny person, who was also a mystery in many ways. I will always miss him.

From Nancy and Doug Ladish


In 1974, in our new home on Kesselring Avenue (two doors down from the Spengler's), we were awakened on our first Saturday morning by the rumble of many big wheels speeding past our house. We later learned that the cute "big" kid leading the pack was Ken. The big wheels rumble soon became music to our ears as we watched all the neighborhood little boys race by our front door.

Once after an outing with the Spengler Family, one of our girls (Beth or Julie) asked if Ken could babysit. After talking to Ken and his mom, we all agreed. He proved to be one of our best babysitters. We always had a reminder that Ken had been at our house the next day when we turned on the stereo -- it was always turned up to the highest volume, with lots of bass. Ken always had wonderful manners, a kind and gentle heart, and a glint in his eyes. We miss him...

From Beth (Ladish) Andres

My memories of Ken date back to the late 70's/early 80's when I was in grade school. The memories are a bit random and tangential since I was so young. They revolved around our Mayfair neighborhood gang.

It wasn't a summer without the frequent outdoor games. We enjoyed many a balmy summer's eve playing "kick the can", and afternoons playing "kickball". I remember in particular an afternoon "game" of "BIG FOOT" (gonna get ya, complete with the 45” of the song playing on a creaky old record player in the background for effect). Ken was BIG FOOT and scared the you-know-what out of all of us! Ken was always the oldest kid in the bunch -- definitely the Alpha male/ring leader, but always nice. I remember playing Atari (or watching the older guys) play "Asteroid" and "Pac-Man." On a softer note, I recall Ken's utter concern for my little sister, Julie, when he saw her all wrapped up in ACE bandages (her childhood obsession). We told Ken that she had broken bones, and a look of sheer angst took over his kind face!

Later, I remember Ken working at the beach, and for "Mayflower" moving company. I remember his awesome senior year photo, and college football pic. I remember his giggle, and award-winning smile (both of which shine through Kristin). At least once a year, Ken appears randomly in my dreams -- as if he's just dropping by for a visit to say hi.